Local coat drive aims to literally warm hearts

Local coat drive aims to literally warm hearts

After months of effort, bagged coats await distribution.
Photo by Adam Reinherz
After months of effort, bagged coats await distribution. Photo by Adam Reinherz

While recent warmth has some hopeful that winter may never come, others are anticipating the snowy season’s arrival. Over the past few months, Janice Bahary, Maureen Kelly Busis and a group of volunteers collected 200 coats for distribution to the city’s needy.

“The Squirrel Hill community [and] people have been incredibly generous. I’m just blown away,” said Bahary, who conceived of the coat drive earlier this summer.

The advance planning, at a time more shorts than snow pants, paid off.

“If you want to time it to when people need coasts you have to collect in October to distribute in November,” explained Bahary. “Most people start thinking about winter coats in winter and it’s too late.”

Along with Busis, Bahary recruited a patchwork of friends to the heartwarming cause. (Busis is the wife of Jim Busis, CEO and publisher of The Jewish Chronicle.)

“I know a lot of people in the community who don’t know each other, and I thought if I have five or six volunteers who don’t know each other, and they have completely different circles, we could touch hundreds of people in the community,” Bahary said.  

Each member of Bahary’s amalgamated team reached out to her individual network and disseminated letters requesting that gently worn coats be delivered to the volunteers’ porches between certain dates.

The volunteer corps then washed, tagged and sorted each coat based on size and gender.

Over the next several weeks, Bahary and Busis will distribute the coats to two local organizations: Auberle’s The 412 Youth Zone, a drop-in and support center for youth ages 16-24 who are in unstable living conditions or are transitioning out of foster care, and Immigrant Services & Refugee Resettlement at Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Pittsburgh, an organization that enables immigrants and refugees to resettle and build new lives in Pittsburgh.

Bahary had become familiar with each organization through her graduate work in public and nonprofit management at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.

Although the group has ceased collecting coats for this drive, Busis recommended Free Store Wilkinsburg for those interested in supporting similar efforts.

The organization’s mission is to redistribute new and lightly used donated goods to residents and “create stability and self-reliance; especially, in times of crisis and emergencies,” said its Facebook page. Located at 619 Penn Avenue in Wilkinsburg, donation hours are Wednesdays from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m., or by appointment.

“Everybody has coats hanging around in their basement or closets, why not put them to good use,” said Busis.

Looking around at the bagged, tagged and sorted coats, there is a sense of “satisfaction,” Bahary added. “Winter coats are expensive and not everyone has access to the funds to keep themselves warm in the winter. That’s the nicest feeling in the world, [knowing] if they’re not spending money on a coat they’ll be spending money on other things that they need.”

The other takeaway, explained Busis, is that anyone can achieve similar results to Bahary’s volunteers.

“Anybody can initiate a project large or small to make the world a better place,” she said. “I was inspired by Janice doing that.”

Adam Reinherz can be reached at adamr@thejewishchronicle.net.

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